Masks, the first novel in a mesmerizing new fantasy series, draws readers into a world in which cataclysmic events have left the Autarchy of Aygrima—the one land blessed with magical resources—cut off from its former trading partners across the waters, not knowing if any of those distant peoples still live. Yet under the rule of the Autarch, Aygrima survives. And thanks to the creation of the Masks and the vigilance of the Autarch’s Watchers, no one can threaten the security of the empire.
In Aygrima, magic is a Gift possessed from birth by a very small percentage of the population, with the Autarch himself the most powerful magic worker of all. Only the long-vanquished Lady of Pain and Fire had been able to challenge his rule.
At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don the spell-infused Masks—which denote both status and profession—whenever they are in public. To maintain the secure rule of the kingdom, the Masks are magically crafted to reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions. And once such betrayals are exposed, the Watchers are there to enforce the law.
Mara Holdfast, daughter of the Autarch’s Master Maskmaker, is fast approaching her fifteenth birthday and her all-important Masking ceremony. Her father himself has been working behind closed doors to create Mara’s Mask. Once the ceremony is done, she will take her place as an adult, and Gifted with the same magical abilities as her father, she will also claim her rightful place as his apprentice.
But on the day of her Masking something goes horribly wrong, and instead of celebrating, Mara is torn away from her parents, imprisoned, and consigned to a wagon bound for the mines. Is it because she didn’t turn the unMasked boy she discovered over to the Night Watchers? Or is it because she’s lied about her Gift, claiming she can only see one color of magic, when in truth she can see them all, just as she could when she was a young child?
Whatever the reason, her Mask has labeled her a traitor and now she has lost everything, doomed to slavery in the mines until she dies. And not even her Gift can show Mara the future that awaits her—a future that may see her freed to aid a rebel cause, forced to become a puppet of the Autarch, or transformed into a force as dangerous to her world as the legendary Lady of Pain and Fire.
Source: I found this as a review by T. E. J. Johnson
Whew, another long one! First and foremost, I would encourage shortening this. If I picked up this book in the bookstore and glanced at the back (if this much text even fit on the back), I would probably read the first paragraph and skim the rest for anything that looks interesting. So I’m going to take that approach with this review.
Right off the bat, I’m moderately annoyed, but not enough to really sink this one. I really don’t like it when book descriptions start “outside” of the book, so to speak. It doesn’t mean anything to me that Masks is the first book in a series (I can find that out myself in other ways pretty quickly). And I’m automatically skeptical of any adjectives/adverbs used to describe the book in the description. If you tell me here it’s going to mesmerizing, I will go in expecting it not to be. Then the book has to overcome that pre-disposed expectation. In my opinion, not a good strategy. But I digress, and we should move on.
The rest of the first paragraph contains some potentially useful background information, but I would recommend trying to weave that same information into paragraphs that actually tell me something about the plot. Remember, my goal here would be to make this shorter. I might argue that the whole first paragraph isn’t even necessary at all — the only piece of information contained in it that isn’t implied elsewhere already is the cataclysmic event that’s separated Aygrima from its trading neighbors. I don’t have the overall impression that such information is really needed to convince the reader, but if it truly is, you could easily mention it later.
The second paragraph I feel pretty similarly about. It’s not too difficult to imply most of this information without taking up the words to blatantly say it. Remember, your readers are not stupid people. You don’t really need to tell us that the Lady of Pain and Fire is some powerful being who’s previously challenged the Autarch — the last sentence of the description is sufficient. And I’m not sure that it’s important to convey that a small percentage of the population has magic—we’ll either figure that out or we won’t, and it’s not going to change how the rest of the description is received. As for the Autarch being the most powerful—well, it’s clear he’s the leader, isn’t it’? Wouldn’t you naturally expect him to be the most powerful? I would probably cut this paragraph altogether as well. That leaves us with only 2/3 of the original description to work with.
The rest of the description is pretty decent. I have an idea about what the Masks are for, even if I’m just skimming. I know who our main character is, and even have an idea of what her aspirations are. And I know what triggers the plot. I even get a sense for the antagonist (the Autharch, I’m assuming) and the political-social structures of the world. More importantly, I’m interested. This sounds like a pretty unique idea for a world, even if the rebel faction working against the ruling authority is one of the oldest plots in the book (hey, it’s still around for a reason).
I think there’s still some cleanup that could be done to make this description really shine —combining ideas, rearranging a few things, etc. Maybe using some shorter sentences. But overall, it’s accomplished its goal of convincing me the book might be pretty good.